Islamic Blasphemy and the “Freedom” to Choose your Own Religion

Hang the anti Islam written on street

In the last few weeks, Muslims from Bangladesh have been going crazy trying to fight back against the critical words of bloggers and other online heretics by violent riots that have so far led to the death of over 30 people. Over 100,000 rioters have been taking to the streets, and the Muslims have been arguing that things have to change for their allegedly secular government. Men must not “mix” with women, and the word of Allah must be brought into the nation’s constitution. And from there… the law against blasphemy can be brought to Western countries. Does that sound about right? It does to them.

Blasphemy in Bangladesh

Hifazat-e-Islam, an Islamic organization that evidently believes that violent riot against their own people are more acceptable than criticizing them, has been violently rioting against their own people for criticizing them. Most of the people who have died in the violent riots were on the side of Hifazat, but not all.

The atheist arguments online are often something to the effect of “Muslims are sensitive fools when it comes to their own religion, and can only solve their issues of frustration with violence.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that when you see this, especially when you also consider what happened after the “Innocence of Muslims” video from that Egyptian Coptic Christian criminal surfaced on YouTube last year.

The Bangladeshi Muslim population (which equates to 90% of their 150 million people) believe that blasphemy should in fact become a prohibition by law. They also say that the country should be ruled by Islamic law, as opposed to what they are currently accusing their government of – being too much like atheists. There were even calls to bring anti-blasphemy laws last year to the UK in order to keep the Muslim video incident from happening again. They want to bring what countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have – law that punishes blasphemy with execution – to nations all across the world.

After all, why is it that races can be protected from hate speech but religions are different? Freedom House – a non-governmental organization that promotes and researches human rights and political freedom – provides an answer:

Those who advocate a ban on “defamation of religions” often falsely equate criticism of religious belief with racial discrimination. One could argue in response that a person’s race is inherited and immutable, whereas religion is a belief that individuals are free to choose or change (unless they live in a country where conversion is criminalized). But the more important distinction is between discriminatory action—such as targeted violence or denial of goods and services—and critical speech. The former is a human rights violation, whether it is based on the victim’s race or religion. The latter is not.

But are people really free to choose their own religions, or are they born with it? The answer is simple: No one is born affiliated to a religion. They may be indoctrinated as children, but they are free to choose what they want. Right?

Sure. Except you’re forgetting one small thing. Most nations in which the majority of the population is Muslim actually believe that the penalty for apostasy isn’t a fine or even being blacklisted from a certain industry, but capital punishment. In other words: If you “choose” not to be a Muslim anymore, you should be killed. As in, to death.

Muslim Opinion Survey

Pew apostacy Muslim survey results May 2013 by geographical region

Two weeks ago, a massive survey by Pew was published, looking at everything from domestic issues to religious values. The results from South Asia as well as Middle-East and North Africa are revealing – 76% and 56%, respectively, agree that people should be executed for leaving Islam. So is Islam a choice? Sure. If you have the choice between “die or be Muslim.” In fact, just a month ago, Morocco’s High Council of Religious Scholars called for the death penalty for Muslims who choose not to be Muslim.

It’s no wonder there are so many Muslim believers in historically Islamic countries – people who “come out ” as non-Muslim may be killed. And as Hot Air mentions, the results may actually be conservative estimates:

And just to make things a tiny bit worse, there’s reason to believe that Pew’s data is understating the magnitude of the problem. For one thing, they didn’t poll Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, or Syria. Where do you suppose the Kingdom’s Salafist population would have placed in Burn the Apostate Derby?

For another thing, the percentages are based on a sample within a sample. Only those Muslims who first said that they support sharia law were asked whether apostates should be executed; the overall percentages [. . .] are derived simply by multiplying the number who said yes to both sharia and execution. Some who oppose basing state law on sharia might nonetheless think apostasy merits death as a religious matter. They’re unaccounted for here.

So according to these extremist Muslims, choosing not to be Muslim anymore should be punishable by death, and making fun of Islam should be punishable by death. Sadly, the Koran – the holy book of Muslim believers – never mentioned anything about rioting like violent lunatics.

But if such “blasphemy” causes people to kill, shouldn’t we stop doing it in order to save lives? The Daily Beast describes what would actually happen from the introduction of such laws:

This is what anti-blasphemy laws inevitably lead to: the arrest and persecution of religious minorities, including children, in order to “protect sensibilities” of religious majorities. What it shows is that anti-blasphemy laws have nothing to do with “respect” or “sensitivity” to religious sentiments but are all about authority, control and social domination.

Is this only theoretical? Freedom House and others investigated this themselves:

As documented in Freedom House’s special report Policing Belief: the Impact of Blasphemy Laws on Human Rights and by other human rights groups, there is no evidence that restricting speech reduces religious intolerance. In fact, the evidence shows that prohibitions on blasphemy actually encourage or justify intolerance and lead to a wide range of human rights abuses, including religious discrimination, arbitrary arrest, torture, and even murder.

The Bottom Line

Clearly, criminalizing “blasphemy” would be a horrible thing. Of course, blasphemy itself isn’t a nice thing either, but ending a non-violent insult with a violent crime is the first step towards the breakdown of civilization. The only reason we have become so powerful as a species is because we allied and worked together. We started with borders, with languages, planned hunts and shared information and resources, and eventually we invented the concept of rules and laws. What these Muslim anti-blasphemy proponents are asking for would politically bring the world back into the stone age, if not the dark ages.

Religious scholar and Colemon Theological Seminary professor Robert Price had an interesting thing to say about heresy. Obviously he was referring to Christianity in this quote, but it certainly applies to the Islamic context described above:

“Heresy,” by the way, simply means “choice.” It came to mean “thoughtcrime,” implying it was blasphemy to presume to choose your own belief instead of swallowing what the bishops spoonfed you.

Indonesian author Toba Beta has a great piece from his book My Ancestor was an Ancient Astronaut which is the sentiment I want to leave the reader with:

A skeptical man with a credo, ‘Seeing is believing’.
One day he found something so alien and said,
‘I can’t believe what I just saw’.

Then the other man with different credo,
‘Blessed are they who believe without seeing’.
One day he found something so alien and said,
‘This is blasphemy, sinful and evil’.

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One Response to Islamic Blasphemy and the “Freedom” to Choose your Own Religion

  1. Some of the guys are making criticism the Holy Islam. Islam does not say to Hang other religion and I am sure 0f that.

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